Quick links for this dialogue:
Act 1. What constitutes a violation?
Act 2. Taking the fraud fighting to an off-eBay board?
Act 3. The fraud fighters' point of view
Act 4. Alternatives - a philatelic advisor or Forgeries subcategory?
Act 5. No easy solutions in the offing
Act 6. Advice to move to an off-eBay board
(with thanks to Monty Python)
Good evening. On "Ethel the Frog" tonight we look at board censorship on eBay, and its effects on the fight against fraud. With only 24 hours left till the threaded Stamps discussion board is removed, coupled with the lack of other effective discussion venues, will those dedicated "caped crusaders" continue to create negativity on the eBay stamps chat board, upsetting other posters and lurkers who just want to enjoy their hobby?
Our eUSC member on the spot at the eBay Stamps chat room reports (warning - lengthy dialogue follows):
Click on thumbnails to see more of the eBay Stamps discussion board threads
Long-Lost Collector: Hi all, long time no see, very glad to see that most of you are still alive, etc.
So, I am trying to figure out how things have changed during the last 18 months or so, and so I am trying to figure out what the new board policies mean in practice. I have already gone over most of the currently posted stuff but I still have a couple questions. Can someone explain a couple points in objective and non-editorial :-) terms?
"In the title of a threaded discussion: Posting user ID's in a derogatory manner, posting URLs, auction numbers, or web sites, or violating any other board posting policy."
Can I assume that this only refers to the -title- of the threaded discussion, that is, it prohibits posts to the discussion board titled 'Long-Lost Collector is a crook, see his auction #9999999', but doesn't refer (in and of itself) to the body of the discussion?
"Posting auction reports or member violations."
I suppose this is directed among other things against our old pastime of ridiculing and exposing obvious crooks on the board here, like the guy from British Columbia who was selling the inverted Jenny. My question is, what constitutes an 'auction report' for the purposes of this rule? If I post 'In auction 88888888, is that probably really the imperf variety?', is this a violation of the policy? If someone else responds 'No, I do not believe that it is', is that a violation? It goes without saying I suppose that if you write 'That notorious crook Long-Lost Collector has obviously clipped off the perfs' it is a violation, but at what point is the line?
US Collector: Long-Lost Collector... You have violated the rules by posting those nasty things about user Long-Lost Collector and his auctions 9999999 & 88888888.
Concerned Collector 2: Long-Lost Collector - Things are really the same, just more refined. As you've noticed, it has become more difficult to direct attention towards "special" items of interest. Also Ebay has become more active in reviewing certain posts to see if they are counter to the rules.
Frustrated Seller: I didn't think that this cesspool of fraud called eBay could possibly come up with any more ways to further protect the crooks eBay is in collusion with. How naive of me. When it comes to defrauding trusting inexperienced collectors eBay will always find new and better ways to help their crooks.
"Time: 13:39:43 PDT ***New Reporting Feature For Discussion & Help Boards***
This week, we will be introducing a new reporting feature for the eBay Discussion and Help Boards. This new feature will facilitate member reporting of Board Usage Policy violations on the threaded boards, and will enable staff to receive and investigate such reports more quickly. This feature will not be available on the chat boards."
This is simply disgusting.
Concerned Collector 1:
LTNS, drop by more frequently.
Lawyer Seller: There is continued harping about why ebay should hire a "philatelic advisor" to work at safe harbour. Why? What do you envision his job description? What would he do? Take a moment and review the safe harbour selling violations. It is NOT a violation to sell an item AS IS or to make misrepresentations in the item description. It is only a violation to sell goods that infringe copyright or are stolen or are from prisoners or violate the narrow definition of "offensive" items. (Selling misdescribed goods is not within the definition of "offensive.") So, even if the philatelic "advisor" agreed with complaints that such and such an item is misdescribed, no enforcement would take place. Hell will freeze over before ebays' attorneys and commercial insurance carrier allowed ebay to change their policies so that they vet lots and make their own judgments about the veracity of a lot or completeness or truthfulness of item descriptions. If ebay started doing this, they would lose their venue only status. It will never, never EVER happen. So, give it up and live with it. The way to clean up the problem is not to waste time, effort and oxygen taking issue with ebay, you have to take individual action against the individual sellers. I also disagree with the notion that just because a seller has a greater than 10% negative feedback ratio, then he is a "crook" and should be suspended from ebay. If you would look at the actual ebay policy, you would see that an ebay member will be suspended ONLY IF his total feedback exceeds minus three, not if his negative to positive feedback reaches a certain ratio.
Lawyer Seller: One more thing: The ebay fraud department will take complaints of a buyer who believes he was actually defrauded by a seller who induces him to bid via a fraudulent description. However, you have to be an actual buyer to submit a complaint. The rest of you who just see an item description you do not like do not have standing to submit a complaint. In the case of a fraud investigation, it is up to the buyer to prove his case to the ebay insurance carrier, then will receive up to $200 minus the $25 deductible. A buyer will not be able to prove his case if the seller used such disclaimers that this might not be genuine, AS IS, etc. None of the sellers that are complained about on the board (like the Basel Dove cover seller) would have exposure from the ebay fraud department. The Basel Dove cover seller does say that forgeries exist and he does not guarantee it. If someone is dumb enough to bid, this is not fraud, this is not fraud.
Elephant Collector: As I see it, the board is divided into halves.
1/2 are very vocal and want to keep pounding on the issue of ebay fraud and potentially may just make eBay skittish enough to close the board - thus losing one venue to be able to try and educate newbie (non-burned bidders) about ebay fraudulent sellers and issues on a low key level.
1/2 want to do things quietly and try to work within the framework that exists in a more subtle way, and still try to expose the fraudulent sellers as has been done for the 1 1/2 years that I have read the board.
Some of this 2nd group feel that the 1st 1/2 are wasting their time and filling up the board with the same thing over and over again. And terrorizing a discussant of whom we know little, and have no clue if he is innocent of ebay collusion or not.
Both sides clearly want to work towards the same goal. However, why don't we give it a break for a while and return to stamp chat/discussions? Say a month-long moratorium?
Lurker: Elephant Collector Very good, however I believe you may have the percentages off a tad. We who do not talk on the board except to ask philatelic question may be in more numbers than you know, given that we mostly sit in the balcony. The level of our dismay at the constant discussion about something over which we have no control, may be greater than you think. (It may not be 50/50) I for one had hoped that the constant concern over fraud would either move to the other chat board, or stay here. Neither seems to have happened, and both boards now are difficult to read due to this material. The moratorium you speak of would be a wonderful period for at least one lurker,......Me.
Cynic: Lurker ...The other board was created for the pleasure of chatting about stamps and NOT about ebay issues but the same people that rant here wish to carry their soap box everywhere . Those that do are encouraged to remain here.
Concerned Collector 3: I'd hate to see this board deserted by all regulars, much as I enjoy James' board (and Richard's for that matter). James' and Richard's boards have a lower profile than the ebay boards--you've got to know how to find them, which the average collector on ebay probably doesn't. This board--and the threaded boards are more visible and can serve a wider educational purpose for new and intermediate collectors.
Is there any way we can come to a compromise? I'm torn between both sides of the problem. I would like to see some of the stridency gone and a return to a broader range of philatelic topics. At the same, I feel it's important to philately--and to ebay's long-term future--that there be some resolution of the fraud/forgery/misrepresentation problems. So the question is--what can we do to accommodate both sides of the issue (and the fence sitters as well)? This is getting too reminiscent of flame wars past, when a lot of good people left in disgust.
Philatelist: For the record, The Philatelist's Board [link]. Mostly dedicated to stamp and cover questions and/or comments.
Spain Collector: Concerned Collector 3 - Actually, I wonder just how many of the collectors on ebay even know of this boards existence!? How do we get to them?
Fraud Fighter 2: To those who are fed up with the never-ending fraud talk: I've posted several topics on the other board not about fraud, but these have already scrolled off. I have also made many comments on fraud, but 9 out of 10 times, I chose to say nothing, because I know people are fed up with the fraud. And I am sure there are many posters like me. So the cease fire you are requesting is already in effect. But thanks for showing your real colors. Who needs enemies with friends like that. At least I am not trying to tell others what they should talk about.
As long as eBay insists on their lame ass excuses for not enforcing their own policies on fraud, people will talk about it. Keep in mind that if even if this is old hat to you, there are new victims showing up every day, and if they're lucky enough to have stumbled onto the chat board, they get a chance to learn a lesson.
Pattern Matcher: Lawyer Seller, Elephant Collector and the others who think we "strident" types should go away:
I don't particularly like to have to talk about this, but I don't believe in burying my head in the sand either. I guess I assumed honor and integrity still meant something in today's me-me-me world, but I should have known better. As long as me-me-me is not being directly hurt by this criminal activity, apparently me-me-me can ignore it.
I and others have put in hundreds of hours EACH in uncovering compelling evidence which offers PROOF of massive fraud which would probably succeed in a court of law. The only legal advice we have received so far (from someone on this very chat board) is to for us to invest hundreds more hours of our own time, tying this whole case up in red ribbons so that it can be handed over to law enforcement so the gendarmes won't have to do any work either. Only once or twice in response to our posts has ANYONE offered to help us in what we are trying to do. And many of you make your living off stamps; I am just a poor dumb (former) collector who has a real 70hr a week job. The only thing we ever asked from the "community" is to be supportive, but I guess that's just too much work for many.
None of us do this for personal rewards. We do it out of an innate sense of right and wrong, and we are taking a stand on principle for the betterment of a dying hobby (Linn's says its average reader is 59!)
It seems that many in this "community" do not worry that fraud is rampant here, as long as they can go back to their own quiet little worlds. Some apparently could care less that a very few KNOWN individuals are becoming millionaires by ripping off all the newbies who show up here, and whose "artwork" will eventually have a devastating effect on the US classics market.
It has been as discouraging to see the apathetic reactions to the fraud here as it was when several months ago I began to realize how much fraud there is in this hobby. From the beginning, I have felt in the responses to my revelations and posts an undercurrent of hostility, annoyance and disbelief. As many of the responses imply that I should go away and leave the "community" alone as have been supportive.
The only way we will ever have any effect is if we all hang together; but I fear that most would rather hang separately. People who collect stamps are by-and-large loners anyway.
Elephant Collector: Pattern Matcher and Fraud Fighter 2: Having reread my post, I realize that I was very one-sided in my typification. I am sorry, and did not mean that the strident or very vocal members of the board are necessarily hurting the board, nor are their desires any different than mine - to see a vibrant board and a vibrant ebay which protects their bidders by a consistent system that works and does not expose them an endless sinkhole of litigation. And I apologize for my tone - which was equally discordant to harmony as what I was obviously criticizing.
Those posters who support a quieter board, with less postings on the fraud issue are not part of that vitriolic speech I gave earlier, and are only trying to express the desire for a chat board more involved with stamp questions. The fraud question will obviously not go away, even if the board is shut down, because it has presented very real problems and represents a failure of ebay to solve a major drawback to this type venue of auction sales. I just am willing to give them some leeway, since they were pioneers in developing this type auction, and it will take time to solve problems such as this.
Far be it from me to request that you not freely express your views on this chat board. I was asked several times in the past to not post my messages, and feel personal about that, and support your right. I am just expressing the frustration of many board members who want to get down to friendly stamp chat, working on Philatelic problems, and not forgetting or ignoring the major problem with bad sellers - but not doing that to the exclusion of all other things.
Elephant Collector: Pattern Matcher: I'm sorry you feel that way. Honesty and integrity are not measured by your criteria of willingness to support your view of how problems should be approached. I tend to be one of those 'black and white' people, but obviously (to me) there are grey zones in how to achieve good results. The only way to know which way is 'right' is to see if one way or the other succeeds - so far neither way can claim too many victories.
If you decide to get out of stamps, it will not be because of bad dealers - every day I deal with dishonest people in all walks of life, it is not limited to stamp sellers or even collectibles. It will be because you let emotions rule where logic should. If you like stamp collecting, then continue, but find venues where you can SUPPORT the good sellers. If you need financial support to proceed with legal maneuvers against bad sellers, I will donate to that. I do not have the time nor inclination to support your fight with time - I spend my time fighting other battles. If you want to donate to my crusades, then let me know, and I have plenty for you to do. Or volunteer at your local hospital, or donate to a local food bank, or support the local ACS, or any number of things the board members do to help others and fight against "the bad things in life". I would equally ask you to not just assume that since I, and others on the board, are not supporting your style of protest, we are wallowing in apathy and disinterest about injustices in the world.
Elephant Collector: I think all would agree that it is time for me to take a "posting vacation" from the board for the rest of the day.
Fraud Fighter 2: Elephant Collector, keep posting. I think all would agree that more is more, and that we all have different opinions how to fix the problems. Some think eBay should be given some slack, and others think eBay is as crooked as the crooks they sponsor. But nothing is achieved without dialog, and quieting the voices of one side or the other helps nobody. So your views are as valuable and welcome as anybody else's.
Lawyer Seller: Pattern Matcher: I do not think that you are being "strident," I think you are beating your head against the wall. Ebay is not going to get in the business of making decisions that a lot is misdescribed or the seller is engaged in fraudulent misrepresentation (or other fraudulent activities such as altering stamps and then not accurately describing the alterations). It does not matter how loud and how long you complaint, ebay will never change because if they did, they would open themselves up to negligent claims for not catching every single potential misrepresented lot -- their commercial insurance carrier will not permit this. Do you want to start paying $10 listing fees and 25% buyer commissions? This is what will start happening if you want to make ebay like a traditional auction house - ebay will have to start paying the insurance and attorney fees of a traditional auction house. The way to get something changed is not by complaining about ebay. You have to take individual appropriate action, outside of ebay, against offending sellers.
Lawyer Seller: Pattern Matcher: I do support your efforts, and I think I was one of the people you talked to via email outside the board. Your evidence I think will succeed in a court of law against the individual seller (the S-C team). But ebay will not change, and getting this seller prosecuted for fraud will not change ebay's policies. My original post this morning was to express frustration about all the talk about ebay hiring a "philatelic expert." This is a complete waste of time. Since ebay does not arbitrate alleged misrepresentations in auction descriptions, there would be nothing for an "expert" to do. There are still those that think that complaining to safe harbour about a seller who has misleading auction descriptions, and/or is selling a forgery and not clearly saying so (instead saying it "might be" a forgery or selling it "as is") will get the seller warned or NARU. This is not the function of safe harbour.
Spain Collector: The threaded stamp board is going to be removed within the next 24 hours!!![link] Sigh....
Lawyer Seller: A&S: If you click on Safeharbor, then Investigations, then Selling Offenses, you will see what selling offenses Safeharbor investigates: Shill bidding, non-selling seller, transaction avoidance and fee avoidance. Notice what is NOT on here: misleading or fraudulent item descriptions. Safeharbor will also respond to complaints that an item is listed that is prohibited by ebay. One thing that is on the list is "counterfeit" stamps, which if you click on the link includes forged postmarks and other postal markings. Do you really want safeharbor to start enforcing this? There will be no picking and choosing, if the complaints are loud and clear enough, maybe ebay will hire a "philatelic expert" in order to spot any and all forgeries and NARU all sellers who sell any forgeries -- including the classic collectible and WWII intelligence forgeries, whether properly identified or not. So, do you want ebay to throw away the baby with the bath water?
Concerned Collector 2: Lawyer Seller - I don't think it requires throwing out the baby with the water. It simply requires a different tub.
I would have no objections whatsoever if there was a subcategory for "Fakes, Forgeries, Fantasies" under Cinderellas, (or your choice to be determined by the "philatelic advisory board"). Those who wish to collect them would have their own category, those sellers who consistently mis-identify their auctions would be asked to seriously consider listing their items in this new category, or desist. Voilą !! Ebay off hook, forgery collectors not abused, forgery sellers not blacklisted. Everyone should be happy.
Fraud Fighter 1: Lawyer Seller, you have answered your own question, no we don't want all forgeries booted but how would they know what is a forgery, reproduction, reprint, facsimile, color photo copy, whatever without some advice from someone who can tell the difference and clever sellers would just use other words to get around the system. Whether you like it or not it is imperative that someone with an inkling of philatelic knowledge gives some advice to the morons at Safeharbor.
One of the problems is that English language Safeharbor queries are handled by the US even though the buyer and sellers may be in other countries. Do you know the laws and regulations for selling and producing forgeries in every country.
Pattern Matcher: Lawyer Seller: Yes it was you I was referring to, but did not think it appropriate for me to bring that up.
Your advice was to basically sacrifice hundreds more hours on top of the hundreds already invested. I already don't have a life because of this stupid investigation, and I certainly don't have any money to pursue this myself. But your suggestion also was that after I had bundled all this documentation into something a DA could take and hand to the judge, you would forward it to the "appropriate" law enforcement agency. Where it would no doubt be filed right next to the Ark of the Covenant (of Indiana Jones fame) and somewhere around the launch of the initial voyage of the Starship Enterprise, it might see the light of day again.
The indictment of the "Ring" of auction riggers recently in the news took 18 months from the time that the same individual involved in the current fraud turned states' evidence (because they wouldn't accede to his blackmail demands). And they had an insider right in the middle of the group. How long will this sit in the bowels of the judicial bureaucracy, and how many millions more will THAT SAME INDIVIDUAL accumulate with his alterations in the meantime because of eBay's inaction?
And not only that, how anxious will a prosecutor be to charge the star witness in an ongoing media circus with being a conspirator in his own unrelated fraud?
I was just hoping that with all this evidence, eBay would be willing to NARU this seller and stop the bleeding, but in the time since I've been trying, he's gotten a couple hundred thousand dollars more out of his victims.
The legal system in this country s*cks.
Concerned Collector 3: Haven't read all of the current posts on this board, but the ones I have read are pretty depressing, especially since my earlier comment about compromising between the two groups has been virtually ignored.
As a community we need to take action so that both goals are met--bringing attention to the scam artists and keeping this a place for philatelic discussion. I don't see these two goals as being mutually exclusive.
Concerned Collector 3: Let me clarify--"two groups": the ones who are actively trying to get ebay to do something about the fraud problems and those who are sick and tired of hearing about it. If ebay ever did anything about the fraud problems, the first group would have no need to continue posting in the same vein and the other group would not be getting disgusted. Sigh . .
US Collector: I think it is beyond credence that Safeharbor is ever going to listen to anything any of us says about the crooks that operate on eBay with their full protection. So maybe we can stop beating this particular dead horse. There are plenty others around here being neglected...
Pattern Matcher: Lawyer Seller: Why did you say "civil" action in your last post? There has to be criminal statutes being broken here. In addition to all the other alterations, they wash a lot of cancels off. If nothing else, that has to be a felony violation of some federal postal statutes.
These people deserve hard time, not a $20,000 fine and slap on the wrist.
Long-Lost Collector: Hiya everyone. :-) On this whole issue of discussing problem sellers with specificity and responding usefully:
Of course it would be ideal to continue to use this chat board as we did in the old days. On the other hand, Spain Collector had a point when he asked what percent of buyers know of the existence of this board. As a matter of fact the point is even stronger. The clueful people who know of the existence of this board and other forums and informational sites also know how not to get victimized themselves. As for the newbie lambs who get 'processed' by certain people, I'm sure they have no idea that this board exists, and have no idea that they need the information that they do need. So in fact, sad to say, even if we had full discussion on this board it still wouldn't solve the problem. It didn't in the past.
Which is to say that most of the kind of discussion that needs to take place is discussion among knowledgeable people, but in that case it doesn't have to take place on the eBay stamp chat board. Knowledgeable people can find another forum.
Next, I doubt very much that posts to this board along the lines of "eBay ought to allow certain other posts or communications to take place" will have much positive practical effect, and if they are themselves sanctioned, posts along the lines of "eBay should not have sanctioned the posts saying that eBay ought to allow the other posts to take place" will have even less effect.
Next, this is not the ideal place to discuss certain things anyway, for reasons which this is not the ideal place to discuss.
To me it seems like it would be a good idea to have a new threaded discussion board, Yahoo group, whatever, for discussion of these issues, which would ideally be hosted by, or linked from, a site of a knowledgeable person who has already invested some time in this area.
If anyone thinks I am saying that certain things are not problems, don't need to be discussed, that people who have devoted a lot of time to certain things have been wasting their time, etc., that's not what I'm saying at all.
You might think I have a lot of nerve appearing here after 18 months and giving advice. I'm often told this in many contexts :-)